Monday, February 12, 2018

To Fellow Sinners, Saved by Grace

My Dearest Family,

We've lost some well-known Christians in the last couple of months, and these losses have left me thinking about not just death, but also about legacy. I've been thinking about what I hope to leave behind someday, specifically what I hope people will say once I'm gone. The revisionist veneration of one (denominationally prominent) Christian has left me very sad and frustrated. As I've seen this fallen human turned into a blameless saint, I've decided to pen some requests for my own funeral some day.

First and foremost: please don't take my sin out of the picture of God's grace.

I beg you: don't reduce me to a caricature of a "good Christian," wiping my sins from earthly record. Yes, God has indeed removed them from me as far as the east from the west (Psa 103:12); I am draped in Christ's righteousness and thus able to stand in his presence. Yet temporal effects remain until the day he returns and makes all things right; and my standing as co-heir with Christ does not erase my time as a slave to sin. And no, of course we don't sin as though we mortals could make grace abound more (Rom 6:1). Ου μη: May it never, ever be!

But those ways in which I've sinned are an important part of the gospel story in my life.

Please do talk about my temper (both before and after I received saving grace). Don't leave out stories of how the "old man" clung to me, even as the Holy Spirit brought change and growth, little by little. Talk about my arrogance, my struggles with pride; then talk about the ways in which Jesus' blood paid the penalty for those sins. Then, and only then, talk about the ways I loved, how God supplied all that I needed to do the good work to which he called me.

Please don't be afraid to share about the ways in which my theology was flawed. Last I checked, ain't nobody Jesus, but Jesus: of course I had some flaws in my theology, this earthly side of heaven. To presume otherwise is absurd; and more than mere bad theology: it's heresy. To preach such nonsense in my passing is slander against me; and worse yet, it's a slander to the gospel itself.

The worst type of heresy is to presume that we none of us have any.

So please, dear ones--preach the gospel at my funeral in its entirety. I must decrease and Christ must increase (Jn 3:30), a daily struggle for us all. Please don't take away from the progress the "new man" made by building me back up into something I wasn't. The gospel plus something is no gospel at all (Gal 1:7), so don't let modern-day Judaizers speak lies at my funeral. Let them in--by all means--I want them to hear the gospel proclaimed. But don't let them (and don't any of you dare be them) spread poisonous half-truths, claiming that my salvation came from my own fleshly works, my own foolish knowledge, or my own feeble faith. My salvation comes from the Lord.

Tell my true testimony--of the many times I sinned by my own volition, but then repented by the Holy Spirit's guidance and received forgiveness by the Lord's mercy--grace upon grace. Tell of how I changed over the years to look more like Jesus, but also to realize just how far from Jesus' holiness I was. Don't rewrite my story, painting me as a larger-than-life, holier-than-thou saint. Please tell God's story--of which I had the honor of being a small part--for the sake of the Kingdom.

Tell the truth in love (Eph 4:15), leaving out neither the enormity of my sin, nor the infinite grace which redeemed me.

In lieu of flowers, I remain,
A fellow sinner, saved by grace.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Free Shipping Fridays: Gender Roles and Norms

Dear Readers,

People have been asking (most with genuine curiosity) why on earth I'm a "centrist" or "robust" complementarian. Why I don't go one way or the other, but camp out in a nebulous middle ground.

I'd like to think it's because I'm seeking to hold seemingly disparate things in tension, the way the gospel often does. And the way only the gospel can.

But I've been accused of being inconsistent, and that's fair. I don't think I am, and I'd like to explain why.

We've been studying 1 Peter 2 in the law student Bible study that I facilitate, and I've been reflecting on "tasting and seeing that the Lord is good" lately. Also, it's getting close to Valentine's Day. So today, I "have" for you a big red box (with a bow!) full of metaphorical chocolates.

Given the subject matter, these little nuggets might not be to everyone's taste. You know--the ones with chili, salt, or other "unusual" flavors in them. A mix of sweet and savory that I personally am drawn toward, but some people (understandably) just don't like. I am not trying to convince anyone to change their Biblically-arrived-upon convictions. This is not that post. I am simply trying to offer a sampling of things that reflect and inform the way I think.

So pick one--at your own risk--and taste and see a little more of the way in which I experience God's goodness, as he is at work redeeming all his people.

Complementarianism is a spectrum:

A somewhat(?) egalitarian response that I really resonated with:

I share this one with a little hesitation, because I do NOT agree with him in other areas of politics and ethnicity. But he articulates my position pretty well:

I also hesitate to link to this one, due to disagreements with the MoS position on a lot of things. A LOT. Culminating in the way other MoS folks actually treat women and minorities, which belies the message of servant leadership. But Aimee Byrd is graciously on point here:

A non-believer's wrestling with womanhood and work (language warning):

I believe that Carolyn Custis James is an egalitarian, but she addresses much of my centrist thinking:

One woman's journey:

I wish I could take her classes, "because the church is not a single-parent family." I loved this:

Monday, January 29, 2018

To My Fellow Robust Complementarians

Figure One: Some baggage. Not pictured are my copies of "So You're Thinking About Going to Seminary" and "How to Stay Christian in Seminary," because I think I might have burned those.

NOTE: I am really good at angering people on both sides of an issue. So let me get these caveats out there.

Egalitarian friends, this is post is obviously not for you. Feel free to eavesdrop, and possibly judge this post, but there are plenty of good egalitarian responses to Dr. Piper's latest dictum. I have read many of them, and some of them are truly helpful (even to a complementarian such as myself). But this post is not one of those. I am attempting something very different here.

Strict complementarian friends, this post isn't for you, either. While I'm glad that you're reading this, it's also a little weird that you're here. "Inconsistent," I believe your Pastor John would say. So feel free to read along, and maybe even weigh in, but if you agree that women shouldn't be seminary professors, then you and I have actually less in common on this issue than I have in common with our egalitarian siblings. And that should tell you something.

And friends from both camps--don't worry. By the time I'm done, I'll probably have angered plenty of the in-between folks I'm actually writing to, as well. I'm an equal opportunity offender, and I've come to accept that. But I am also an equal opportunity grieve-er, and that is much harder to bear. So pray for us all.

Dear Siblings who Live in the Complicated Grey Area,

I spent the past week in a flu-haze, so I only caught snippets of Dr. John Piper's missive regarding the dangers of women as seminary professors. A few texts and conversations here and there, asking what I thought. Mostly commiserating that once again, Piper gets to set the agenda, call the shots, and further entrench the idea that either you're a (wildly liberal) egalitarian or you're a (staunch, faithful) complementarian, with room for neither nuance nor nonsense.

It seems that there are a lot of us in "conservative" circles who don't agree with Pastor John. But there aren't many of us speaking that truth (that I can find, anyway) online. And pretty much only women writers, at that. Yes, there were a lot of good egalitarian responses, many of which pointed out the ways in which Dr. Piper's words are hurtful, random, and themselves inconsistent.

So I won't be directly rebutting Dr. Piper's post here. Perhaps that will come another day. Today, I want to assume that we're on the same page--that we both thought the podcast was unhelpful, inaccurate, and misrepresentative of where we live and what we believe. Today, I need to believe--despite the lack of representative blog posts and articles--that I am not alone in inhabiting this marginal space of non-Piper complementarianism. Today, I don't want so much to convince anyone to believe differently at either extreme, as to ask like-minded siblings to consider acting on these shared beliefs a little differently.

In my requests below, I've tried to be gracious. I've tried to be honest. And I've tried to be vulnerable. Rather than trying to point fingers, I'm trying to reach out trembling hands and ask for partnership, for help. Because we're in this together, right? I hope none of you feel too targeted or shamed by what I'm saying below. Forgive me (or at least let me know!) if you do. But I can't help but hope that some of these small steps could actually make a big difference.

So if you fit in this centrist, awkward space with me, would you please consider the following three ideas?

One. Given his latest unkindness, please stop quoting John Piper in your sermons, talks, Bible studies, books, social media posts, classes, etc. Yes, his positive contributions to Evangelicalism cannot be understated in the areas of world missions, "Christian Hedonism," and the like. But he wasn't the first to say those good things, and he hasn't been the last. As good as his stuff is, I promise that you can find another quote to use when you want to talk about the glory of God and our happiness.

I've pleaded before for you to no longer allow the Three Female Ghosts that Haunt the Church to preach your sermons. No longer quoting Dr. Piper is a very specific way you can go about this. Not convinced that using Piper quotes is really that damaging? An analogy: Southern Presbyterian friends who care deeply about racial reconciliation, you've learned to stop using Robert Lewis Dabney quotes, right? Dabney had a way with words and some truly beautiful things to say, especially in the areas of ecclesiology and soteriology. But most folks I know who do want to avoid being lumped in with his segregationist ideals (and hateful, dehumanizing rhetoric) have still decided to look elsewhere for sermon anecdotes and inspirational quotes. So yes--I'm drawing a line in the sand--but at least to me, a Piper quote is as hurtful as a Dabney quote. At best, it's tone deaf. At worst, it communicates alignment with someone who thinks I am in direct sin by doing campus ministry. John Piper thinks that women should never have direct, personal "guidance and influence" over a man, in any sphere, ever. He thinks that when I sit down with a male student or faculty member to encourage, challenge, and pray for them, I am "violating their sense of manhood." If that's not a direct indictment of who I am and what I've been called to do, I don't know what is. If you agree with Piper on this, then go in peace, friend (but didn't we already discuss that this post isn't for you?). If you disagree, then please see how much it grieves me when Dr. Piper is quoted on a variety of subject matters.

Don't hear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying don't read, appreciate, or seek a nuanced understanding of Dr. Piper. (I'm not even saying that about Dabney, actually.) I'm not saying burn all his books and reject his teaching entirely. I did--in a fit of pique, I'll admit--shove A Hunger for God and Let the Nations Be Glad to the back of the bookshelf. But I've kept them. By all means, dig into his prolific library when you want to better understand the importance of missions, or read his website if you want encouragement in areas of daily faith and practice. Just please, please, don't quote him. If you want to show support for myself and women like me, find somebody else to quote who hasn't so very clearly articulated such a toxic (and I believe, false!) view of complementarianism.

Two. Please stop letting John Piper define the entirety of complementarianism. I am begging you, be vocal about your positive views on women leading in appropriate and healthy ways, and be very clear that you disagree with Dr. Piper's stances on the matter. It is not enough to try to define our own "robust," "moderate," or "soft" complementarianism, where we articulate what we believe is a Biblical view of gender. We must also articulate what it isn't. Really, we need a new term, so as to distance ourselves completely from what John Piper says about gender roles. So if anybody's got that, I would be incredibly grateful.

I've pleaded before, more obliquely, for leaders to be willing to graciously and publicly disagree with Piper's brand of strict complementarianism. After his podcast indicting the very idea of a female seminary professor, I'm willing to be more direct. I've heard some of you respectfully disagree with Dr. Piper on his views regarding mode and recipient of baptism. If you can lovingly say that you disagree with him about a sacrament, then I don't understand why you can't add his views on women to the list. If you're already saying, "I think my brother John is way off when he says that sprinkling infants is sinful," please, please, add "I think my brother John is way off when he says that women seminary professors are by nature sinful" to your repertoire. If you are already saying that women can be CEOs, can be seminary professors, can do campus ministry--and some of you have, and publicly--then please, please, also articulate that you respectfully disagree with Dr. Piper when he says that they can't. If you won't put two and two together to get four, then I start to wonder if you ever really did affirm me in my calling. I start to wonder if you meant it, or if you've changed your mind since then. And if you won't put two and two together to get four, please believe me when I tell you that too many of the men (and women) who are listening to you will put two and two together to make five. And that twisted math is devastating to me, women like me, and the church in general.  It's the very reason why we need--and again, if you are a "robust" complementarian, you have already admitted that you agree with this--women seminary professors in the first place. We need the complementary nature of men and women, partnering together, to help the church thrive. We who are women need to know that men (under whose leadership we willingly submit ourselves) are listening, learning, and lamenting the ways that we sin against each other. You who are men need to know that women (whom you have been entrusted to lead as servant-leaders in the sacrificial legacy of Christ) are actually wounded when Dr. Piper's words go unchecked. We all need to be reminded that the embodied King Jesus came to earth as a man (and that's beautiful and it matters) to love and save men and women alike.

Again, don't hear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying you have to be hateful, or pedantic, or even very splashy about how Dr. Piper's brand of complementarianism is not your own. Just be honest, clear, and consistent about it. If I understand correctly, you and I believe that the complementarianism we see in the Bible is neither toxic nor harmful. We believe that certain boundaries aren't limiting, but rather freeing. We believe the opposite of what society tells us about gender roles, but we also believe the opposite of what Pastor John tells us. There is a third way, and I am so weary of it getting lost in the middle of false unity. I, myself, siblings, am so weary of being lost in the middle of this false unity.

Three. Finally, please support, bankroll, pray, advocate, and fight for the women in seminary that you know. Whether they are students or professors, it is not an easy thing to be a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field. I can ultimately only speak for myself, but it is a daily death to be the only woman in your program, in class, on a faculty, at a conference, or on a panel, or in any number of situations.

I've pleaded before for folks to understand what it's like to be the only woman in a theological setting. It's exhausting. And now, as I prepare to begin my seventh. year. in. seminary. (!) still the only woman in my MDiv program (and usually the only woman in my classes), John Piper's words are especially hard to bear. For the Lord's own mysterious reasons (no doubt part of which is my own sanctification and being humbled), I am at a seminary with only one female professor (and she not in the MDiv program). We've had women teaching MDiv classes in the past (and the Homiletics course, no less!), and the majority of my professors are supportive of my endeavors. But if Dr. Piper's rhetoric is allowed to continue to grow and influence others, then myself and women like me will still have to deal with a lot of vitriol and disdain. Whether my seminary hires female professors or not, or whether other women will join me in the MDiv program or not (please, oh, please! COME!) is secondary to (though of course ultimately part of) what the climate will be like. When Dr. Piper is allowed to blithely say that oh, sure--women can be in seminary or whatever, but he is not held accountable to what women in seminary need in the way of support, it's still harmful. And when Dr. Piper is allowed to offer hollow, nominal support for women in seminary without being held accountable to the hurt that his words cause, the damage is compounded.

So don't hear what I'm not saying. I'm not trying to change the minds of egalitarians to a complementarian position. I'm not even trying to change the minds of Pastor John supporters to reject what he's preaching. Yes, I'd love for egalitarians to be less alienated by and suspicious of the true complementarian position. Indeed, I'd be grateful if more folks stopped agreeing with toxic complementarianism and chose instead that arduous middle path to which I feel called. But what I'm really asking for is those who are already with me in orthodoxy to join me in orthopraxy. If you were angered by Dr. Piper's podcast but are in the complementarian camp, please speak up. If you disagree with the idea that female seminary professors can't be part of a healthy complementarian seminary, please, pray for those of us in the seminary trenches. And if you want to put your money, time, and emotional energy where your mouth is, then, please--fund more women in all areas of seminary. I am grateful for the scholarships that I do receive, and am not above accepting more. And I would be over the moon for an endowed chair specifically for a woman professor in my program!

And know that regardless, myself and women like me will persevere, because that's what God has asked us to do.

Robustly yours,
A Fellow Awkward Centrist.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Free Shipping Fridays: Blessings, Not Curses

Dear Readers,

I've been joining the angry throng on Twitter--those repulsed by the current president's vulgar rhetoric. Please note I say "rhetoric," instead of "words," because (as previously discussed) I'm not so much bothered by his language as by everything else. To me, whether he used traditional "curse" words or not is rather irrelevant, given that he used cursing language. He has made it clear that he thinks other countries (ones who are full of predominantly brown-skinned citizens) are contemptible and beneath him. He has done the opposite of blessing those (especially those with less material blessings) who are different than himself: he has cursed them.

But that's not how Jesus works, at all. He came to a "shithole" country, in a backwater town, to a meager existence and difficult life. He preached good news of freedom for captives, justice for the oppressed, and an eternal (yet still embodied) citizenship in the New Heavens and the New Earth for those who needed it most.

He came--in his own brown skin and with no running water, voting rights, nor network capital--to remind people of their inherent worth because of the imago dei. To call us all to repent of our own inherent, sinful, racism which would put "me and mine" above others.

So here, in my own tradition of questionable puns and wordplay, is today's metaphorical Free Shipping Friday offering: a random collection of internet trinkets, laid on a rough-woven blanket for your perusal.

Shiny baubles which I pray we will not string into a gaudy necklace, designed to show others how wise and humble and loving we are...

but rather wear close to our hearts to remind us just how much we need Jesus.

This poignant video says it all: "I need Africa more than Africa needs me"
H/T Will Stackler, whom I first saw wearing the shirt:

Joshua and Pauline Settles, colleagues serving with the Ghana Fellowship of Evangelical Students:

Actual jewelry for purchase--beautiful things made by beautiful people:

Eye-opening books:

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

To Those Whose Speech is Vulgar

Dear Friends Who are Still Speaking to Me,

I've actually come up with a resolution this year, and I'd like to share it with you:

For 2018, I'm going to be more vulgar.

Wait (dammit), stay with me on this. For those who know me--or if my reputation has preceded me--you may be thinking a couple of different things.

"Is that actually possible? For Chandra to be more vulgar?"


"Is that such a good idea? For Chandra to be more vulgar?"

or even

"How is that a New Year's Resolution? For Chandra to be more vulgar?"

Well, hang on just a (damn) minute. "Vulgar" didn't always mean crude or offensive. It used to just mean "commonplace" or "of the masses." The Vulgate version of the Bible was written in Latin, a language of the masses (hence the word origin; EDIT: The Vulgate was the more commonly used Latin Bible, so that's why it entered the vernacular. Thanks, D. Hogue!). Latin is a "dead" language now, and most folks who can read the Bible in a Latin translation are fairly privileged/scholarly. But at one time, the language of the Vulgate would have been understandable to many (if not most) European folks. And though someone saying they know "Koine" Greek might sound impressive, using the modifier "Koine" is merely a way of distinguishing Classical Greek from the everyday Greek in which the New Testament was written. It too, just means "common."

So when I say my goal is to be more vulgar, I'm mostly just talking about this crazy endeavor I've undertaken to read the entire Protestant Bible in its original languages in one year. Yes, my goal is to read the Bible in those commonplace languages in which it was first written: Hebrew and (Koine) Greek.

I hesitated to announce this absurd plan to the masses (get it? har har har) because let's be honest: it's pretty much a brag. "Ooooooh, lookit meeeeee! I can read the Bible in the original languages! Oooooooh! I'm sooooooo impressive!" Brag, brag, brag.

I am not denying I am bad about bragging.

But in this case, I'm sharing for a few reasons, and you being impressed with me is not on the list. Okay, fine. It's at the bottom of the list. I admit it, okay? (dammit.)

Pretty high on the list is that I'd love prayer and encouragement. I'm in a really great Facebook group of like-minded individuals who have far more discipline, organizational skills, and vocabulary memorized than do I, so I've got great accountability. (And I am not fishing for complements--I know my strengths, and being disciplined, organized, or vocabulary-ized is none of them. I am [mostly] okay with that.) But I only know one or two of those folks personally, and from what I can tell, most of them are not "common" people. They are seminarians and scholars, not stay-at-home parents and engineers.

And that actually brings me to top of my list of what I'm hoping to accomplish here. I'd also love to pray for and encourage you: a loved one who is both commonplace and extraordinary. Because if I'm honest, most days I will read over the assigned passages in the original languages, puzzle through them as best I can, understand very little, and then read the passages again in English. Perhaps, by this time next year, the daily habit will have schooled me well in my Greek and Hebrew, and I'll understand more than ever. Maybe not. But I will have read some Bible passages, and (perhaps more importantly) will have had to ask for forgiveness and to forgive myself for every day that I didn't read. And even on those days I do accomplish the reading, I will also have to repent of the desire to brag about how smart I am. Each and every day, I will need to be forgiven of forgetting that being a seminarian does not make me special. Daily, I will need reminders that I am a common person who is loved by a transcendent God. Attempting this resolution means that each day of 2018 I will have had to bring myself--not just my vulgar tongue, but my truly vulgar heart--to the feet of the living word, coming away transformed.

And that's what I want for all of us. Those of us who claim Christ, I want us--his beloved bride--to know Jesus better. Those of you that I know and love who aren't Christ-followers, I want you to know him better, too, so that you can make truly informed decisions about who he says he is and what that means for you. And for most of the folks who read this, that probably won't mean reading the Bible in the original languages. But I hope you can find some "vulgar" way to listen to God daily. Maybe it will mean committing to daily reading of the written scriptures in your first language. Maybe it will look like regularly listening to a podcast with commonplace, sometimes vulgar folks talking about Jesus. Perhaps you'll listen to sermons online. Maybe you'll listen to music from artists who are considered vulgar because they have the audacity to talk about real life and how messy things can get when we seek to rely on the Holy Spirit. Maybe you'll talk with folks on social media who, like myself, could use a little taming of their tongues, but are desperate to keep their hearts aflame. Perhaps you'll even spend more time talking to (and about) Jesus like the Psalmist, the Apostle Paul, Solomon, and others did--passionately, "earthily," and honestly.

I hope so. Let's be vulgar this year, friends.

Let us, in our everyday lives, seek that extraordinary one who came to this commonplace earth, had rough, calloused hands, and lived his entire life without indoor plumbing or washing machines.

Let us seek those vulgar ones who Christ came to save--the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sailors with whom he felt far more comfortable than the religious scholars of the day.

Let us be honest about our finite, needy condition, and find that God has come to dwell with us in mercy and in truth--not in spite of our vulgarity, but because of it.

From one sinner to another (damn!),

Monday, August 14, 2017

To My Fellow Americans (Part 4)

From the cover of "Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew?"
by Charles D. Drew, New Growth Press, 2012; under US Copyright Fair Use Laws.
Cover design by Brandon Hill Design.

I know the issue is more than mere political divide, but it's not less than that, either. 

Dear Eighty-One Percent,

I've seen a lot of sympathy offered for those who were hurt in Charlottesville this weekend. Social media is full of calls for "loving thoughts" and prayer for #Charlottesville. Regular folks and celebrities alike are tweeting their condemnation of the violence, with hashtags like #BeKind and #Resist. It's definitely "trending."

There are also a lot of folks who are doing even more than engaging on social media. People of all skin tones and backgrounds are peacefully protesting across the country. Charities are providing the opportunity to help with the legal and medical needs of the victims. Wealthy folk are putting their money where their mouths are, tangible support to match their tweets.

And yet.

Remember the "Occupy Wall Street" protests? Folks also engaged in a variety of ways around that cause. "The One Percent" became synonymous with privilege and being out-of-touch. In the same way that the "1%" of Americans is made up of privileged folks, so too is the "81%" of Evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump. A privilege which, though not based solely in financial wealth, still affords the 81% the ability to ignore the reality behind Charlottesville. To rest in their privilege and stay out-of-touch. So many people are asking, "How can we help?" Will those of you who voted for President Trump actually listen to the answer?

During the election, Christian people of color and minority status said: "We are afraid. This man encourages xenophobia and exceptionalism. His violent message will lead to violent actions." Many of those who would later vote for Trump--the 81%--responded: "No, you're reading into it. Don't be so paranoid. Your fears are unfounded and unreasonable."

As the election progressed, Christian people of color and minority status pleaded: "We are afraid. This man is backed by hateful people in the alt-right, anti-semitic movement. His words and behavior toward the most vulnerable are predatory, disdainful, and dangerous. If he is president, many of us--our children and families--will suffer." Yet Christian folks replied: "Abortion is too big of an issue to let go of! Our next president will choose at least one Supreme Court Justice! The 'least of these' talked about by Jesus were the unborn, and that's it. Your fears are distracting us from the real battle for life."

When the electoral college turned fiction into fact, Christian people of color and minority status cried out: "We are afraid! How could this happen? How could 81% of our brothers and sisters in the church care so little for our well-being that they were willing to ignore the threat of Trump? How could they look the other way regarding his misogyny, racism, and lies? Where do we go when we feel unsafe in our own churches?" And the 81% lashed out: "Our hands were tied. We had an impossible choice. Hillary is evil, and we have to protect babies. It hurts us that you say you feel unsafe. Your well-being isn't threatened by Trump's presidency! Please stop being so divisive."

When President-Elect Trump named alt-right, white supremacists to his cabinet and other important positions, Christian people of color and minority status wept and raged. When Trump took oaths to defend and protect our country, yet policies against the vulnerable began to take shape, sometimes Christian people of color and minority status ran out of things to say. Because fears were being realized, and the damage was already done. If these traumatized brothers and sisters did speak up, far too many of the 81% didn't want to hear it: "Don't say you told us so. This is different than what you predicted. There's not proof these things are related. It's not our business--that's what we have elected officials for. You're still being so paranoid. Hasn't the election divided us enough already? Could we please stop talking about all this and get back to gospel issues?"

And now Charlottesville has happened. Now an act of terror upon American soil by radical dissidents has occurred, and Trump supporters are surprised, horrified, and want to help. Now the blood of the vulnerable has been shed--yet again--and Christian people of color and minority status will raise weary heads yet again, to ask: "We are afraid--will you hear us? Please don't make excuses. Just listen. Please don't vote for President Trump in four years. Please don't assume that we're paranoid and unreasonable. Please start writing and calling your elected officials (of all affiliations) to tell them that not only is this violence unacceptable, so is the rhetoric and permissiveness which has spawned it. Please, brothers and sisters, don't turn a blind eye and rest in your privilege. We don't need you to beat yourselves up for voting for Trump. We need you to listen to the Holy Spirit, repent, and get busy grieving, protesting, and figuring out what God would have you do differently."

So, dear siblings in the 81%, will you listen? Will you lament with us? Will you cling to grace more than a political party? Will you move forward in repentance and in hope at what God is doing amidst the chaos? Will you stop making excuses for the current administration, stop berating those who are afraid, and enter the messy world of vulnerable people where there are no easy answers? I hope so.

Afraid yet clinging to Jesus,
A wounded sister.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

To Those with Influence

Dear Folks in Charge,

I could be writing this letter to many high-profile pastors and theologians. Asking those influential leaders to please reconsider, see reason, or think about how their bold statements affect those of us in the pew. But I'm not. I'm writing to you, Professor. I'm writing to you, Pastor. I'm writing to you, Elder; and you, Chairperson; and you, Dean. I'm writing to all the people that I actually know in some way, who seem to actually care about what I'm thinking. I'm writing to the leaders--in all my spheres of life--who have some measure of influence on these outspoken "rock star" Christians. I'm writing to those folks who seem to still be willing to listen to the average person, as opposed to those whose arrogance seems to be blinding them to listening to anyone other than those they see as equals.

I know that's a brassy thing to say, to classify them as arrogant. I know that it doesn't necessarily lessen the blow to say that you--leaders that I do know in some way--are not as arrogant. I should clarify. We're all arrogant. I'm arrogant. (I think we're all well aware of that.) But I think the lack of humility and God-centeredness (which all humans struggle with) shows itself in different ways. It manifests itself differently in different folks, and it looms large in the lives of leaders whose opinions go unchallenged and unchecked. I know these fellow leaders are your friends, and hearing them or their ideas maligned isn't easy. I know they are, in some ways, also my leaders, and as such deserve respect according to their office. But your friendship with them is precisely why I am writing you, friends. Because someone's got to be willing to say something to them in a public sphere, and that sure isn't me. For several reasons.

Let me be clear. I am not asking you to disown these fellow servants, to throw them under the proverbial bus, or to make a spectacle of them. I know there are some conversations--some of which you are no doubt having--that are best left private for both Biblical and human reasons. But there are two reasons why I am entreating you to openly speak to your fellow leaders--for our sake, and for theirs.

For the sake of the church, we need to speak out against evil rhetoric. You know this. You are very good at doing this in many ways. You speak out against the evils of misogyny, racism, and violence against the helpless. This is, in part, why I so joyfully submit myself to your leadership. I believe in you. You give beautiful, passionate sermons and lectures about pursuing holiness, about the work of God in bringing his shalom and justice. You make it clear what you stand for, and I am grateful. And yet.

And yet you align yourself--in a way that makes it seem wholeheartedly--with those who do not stand against those evils. It seems to me that there is a prevailing thought in leadership that if you just ignore the troubling rhetoric of your siblings, they will cease and desist. I think it's time to speak this truth: they are not stopping. They have not stopped. And until they are called--graciously and lovingly--to account for their theology and how they have caused pain, I do not believe they will stop.

Let me give an example of what I would love to hear. I think we've already agreed that I'm being brazen here, so I'll not hem and haw around what I am asking you to do, dear leaders. If you were to say--publicly (on a blog, in an article, a tweet, a sermon message, a podcast, etc.) and not just privately--"I love this dear brother x. His heart for x ministries is evident. He has been a powerful force used by the Lord for x. For this I am grateful. But his views on women, and what he presents as complementarianism, is not what I stand for. It is not what this organization/school/platform stands for. We believe in the robust support of men and women, in various spheres of influence, as leaders in their fields. Though we support a complementarian view which holds men and women as inherently different and with different, God-ordained roles in the home and the church, this does not play out in a 1950's 'secretaries, teachers, wives, and mothers only' way. Women can be CEOs. Women can be lay leaders in the church. Women can teach, they can engineer, they can innovate, they can minister, they can write, they can speak, they can lead. We support this."

I know there are several responses to what I just wrote. To my egalitarian friends, I apologize. I know there doesn't seem to be a distinction here, between different brands of complementarianism. I can only say that I am sorry for the pain this causes you, and beg you to continue to dialogue with me on this, trusting what you know of me and other robust complementarians to help the conversation along.

On the flip side, to folks who agree with hyper-complementarianism's restrictions and think that I am theologically way off-base here, I'm curious to know why you're reading this blog and allowing me to have influence in your thinking--especially if you're male. I would love to dialogue about this, too. I will say that the bold statement above is only a paraphrasing of what I have heard many leaders say in response to the question of women's roles and what robust complementarianism looks like. These are not radical statements that I made up. What is radical is someone actually calling for these statements to be held over against statements which do not affirm women as any sort of leaders or having any influence over men, ever.

And to the leaders whom I have paraphrased above, who have said these affirming, life-giving things about the roles and leadership of women, you may not see the point. Because yes, you are already saying these important things. You are standing up for those who have no voice in a fallen world. And for that I am really and truly grateful. But I think we are on the same page when I say that we want to see these things changed by the power of the gospel. We want to see less sexism, less dismissive mistrust of women. We are working together to see fewer women grieved by ignorance, abuses, and bad theology in the church. We believe that God is doing these things.

Why then the letter? you ask. Why not just keep doing the good work, fighting the good fight? Well, in addition to the fact that the schtick of my blog is writing letters, I'll answer that the advancement of the cause requires more. It requires more than just two ships passing in the night. Rather than two competing views of women's roles, there needs to be an actual dialogue. And sometimes, an actual conflict. I am asking you, leaders, to say hard things to these other leaders. To say "No, friend. You and I do not agree on this, and I must speak out here, even though I may risk our friendship. I do this because I will stand on my theological convictions with integrity and the understanding that what I say matters to the men and women in our classrooms, our churches, our businesses and our organizations. You and I may even have to agree to disagree, but I will not, by my silence, give the impression that I am ambivalent about this." That is the kind of support I am asking for.

I get called an instigator a lot. Sometimes the accusations are true, and I need to repent. Sometimes, they are wholly untrue, and others need to step back and evaluate themselves. Most often, it is a muddy mix of the two, where I am in need of good leadership to help me listen, rethink, and repent where my attitude is bad. Most often, there is something good to be said in there, mixed in with my anger and heartache and passionate stubbornness. So lead, dear ones. Lead by being willing to speak whenever anyone in your sphere of influence needs guidance. This includes me, but it also includes these other leaders. It must include both, if we are to be as impartial as Paul exhorted us in James 2.

There is room to both affirm the views you agree with, and respectfully speak out against the views with which you do not hold. And there is a way to do that which does not denigrate the person. You know that. You've taught me that. And when it comes to speaking out for the sake of these leaders--no matter the subject--I beg of you, show us some of the "iron sharpening iron" that is such an integral part of the Body of Christ. Hold them accountable, and by doing so bless them with your speaking the truth in love, and us with your advocacy and clarifications. Help those of us in the pew learn how to actually engage one another on hard topics, not how to just "get along."

This really could be about any issue--missions, race, money, anger, etc. I have just chosen one that is especially painful right now. Basically, I'm asking you to stand up for what you already believe in. I do believe you are already working out these issues privately, which is wise and gracious of you. And I'm not asking you to shame your fellow leaders. But please also have some of these conversations publicly, for the benefit of the church. And if you believe that I have sinned in penning this, then I trust that you will tell me, graciously and firmly. I trust that you will make your position clear, both in private and in public. I ask for no less for your fellow leaders.

A fellow follower of Jesus, and one entrusted to your care.